Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 35: Beer has food value, but food has no beer value

On Thursday, I woke up fairly early so I could head back to Carlsbad Caverns. Being after Labor Day, the park was mostly quiet. I purchased my ticket (only $6, what a deal) and walked over to the "natural entrance" to the caverns, which is the large hole in the ground the first explorer of the caves used to get in and out. Luckily, visitors these days don't need to scale down a wire and wood ladder into total darkness; there is a convenient paved path (albeit a winding one) that leads you into the depths. Once you're eyes adjust to the darkness, the few lights on the path and strategically placed to emphasis points of interest are more than enough to feel comfortable with.

The caverns themselves are amazing. As with Glacier, I feel any words I could write would be unable to truly do justice to the magnificence of the place. The sheer size of some of the caves is unbelievable, as are the many (many) formations decorating the floor and ceilings. I felt like I was walking through a Disneyland exhibit, nothing this amazing could be natural. But of course it is, and is really a testament to the power and beauty of nature. Anyway, I'll stop trying to butcher Carlsbad with words; instead I'll use pictures.

It took me about two and a half hours in all to complete the self guided tours available. In the future, I think I'd like to come back and participate in one of the caving tours; one where you get a helmet and headlamp and scale yourself into one of the undeveloped caves.

Also, after Labor Day is the perfect time to come (at least to this national park, but I imagine the story is similar at most places). One ranger I met on my way down told me I was only the seventh person he had seen that day (almost two hours after the park opened).

Don't believe the lies...I'm not sure which lies not to believe, though
Leaving Carlsbad, I headed north again to a little town called Roswell (you may have heard of it). Let me tell you, that is one goofy place. Of course, I had to go to the International UFO Museum and Research Center (yes, research center). Now, I'm a skeptic by nature, but my natural inclination is to believe that there must be something somewhere out in the big ol' universe other just ourselves. I also wouldn't necessarily rule out the possibility that some of these outsiders have visited Earth, and even that our own military has some secret cover up concerning the whole matter. However, that being said, the UFO museum is just certifiably wacky. Maybe it's just that aliens conscientiously choose redneck hillbillies to visit because they know their credibility is lacking, to say the least. Or perhaps it's just that these are the only people willing to speak out about their encounters. Either way, I must say that the "evidence" that the museum puts forth is far from convincing, even to one like myself who is not a disbeliever. They seem to take themselves quite seriously, though. Just the same, I'm taking away 20 points for lack of an organized flow and an unprofessional display of evidence.

I left Roswell and headed west-ish with little plan for the rest of the day. It was still fairly early (mid-afternoon), and I hadn't put down a lot of miles for the day yet. My goal was to get to Whitesands National Monument that day, and then find a place to sleep somewhere west of there.

Not pictured: missiles exploding on the
range to my right
The drive from Roswell was very nice, heading up into the mountains, eventually coming down towards Whitesands and the Whitesands missile range. As luck would have it, I arrived in the valley just as the sun was setting over the western mountains. After watching a beautiful sunset, I pulled into Whitesands about an hour before the gate closes for the night. Since I had so little time left, the ranger didn't charge me for entrance (thank you). Whitesands is exactly what you would think it to be from its name; namely, dunes of white sand. The sand itself is very fine grained and quite pleasant to the touch. I stayed out on the dunes for as long as I could stand the bugs (even with the bug spray this time...). The sky was completely clear all around, but as I was leaving I noticed some clouds probably twenty miles or so to the south. To my surprise they suddenly lit up from within with lightning. I was able to watch this show for a good twenty minutes on my drive through the missile range.

I crossed the western mountain range, hit Las Cruces, and began heading north up the interstate. Curiously, I had to pass through a border control inspection point (seemed a bit far north to me for that).

First try at the Milky Way. More to come.
Further up the road, I decided to start looking for a place to sleep for the night. Around 10pm I pulled into Truth or Consequences, NM (I kid you not). I drove the strip, but finding nothing too promising instead stopped for a bit to eat at a diner. To tell you the truth, the consequences of that meal and coffee were that I was able to continue driving for another hour or so to Socorro (see what I did there??).

In Socorro I found a Motel 6 for thirty bucks; the cheapest of this trip so far.

Friday morning I had breakfast at a local restaurant, which consisted of huevos rancheros. I'd never had this delicacy before, but my experience has left me a changed man. Think scrambled eggs with cheese on a corn tortilla, smothered in red and green chili sauce; with pinto beans, hashbrowns, and covered with lettuce, tomatoes, and black olives. Perfection on a plate.

After breakfast I checked the trusty internets to decide if Albuquerque or Santa Fe had much in the way of points of interest to offer. It seems my streak of serendipity was continuing. This weekend in Santa Fe is the Fiesta de Santa Fe (or simply "La Fiesta"). I booked a motel in Santa Fe for the night and set off.

Remind me later to go on a rant about traffic and driving habits that contribute to worsening conditions. I'm still too bitter about it to relate the tale of my drive this afternoon.

After checking into my motel in Santa Fe, I headed downtown to the Plaza, where La Fiesta was being held. Parking was at least 27 different kinds of frustrating, but I eventually found a place out in a residential area.

La Fiesta was really fun, I walked around for a while soaking in the atmosphere. For dinner I had a Navajo Taco (oh man, so very delicious). There was a stage with music, on which was playing a mariachi band whilst I ate.

The downtown of Santa Fe is really nice; there are no high rises or obtrusive buildings. Being one of the oldest towns in America (founded in the early 17th century), much of the architecture and design of the city is reminiscent of early Spanish, Native American, and Mexican ideas. It is also at an elevation of over 7000 feet above sea level.

Following La Fiesta, I drove out of the city to watch the sun set again. I'll never grow tired of that.

Once again the mosquitoes determined that it was time to go (although I think this time the bug spray helped a bit more). Before turning in for the night, I headed over to the Second Street Brewery. I had a couple pints of their IPA (while writing the majority of this blog, I must say, so I apologize if it quickly deteriorates in quality) while listening to a jazzy kind of band (I'm not sure how to classify them). The IPA was actually quite good, nice and hoppy with a hint of citrus.

Tomorrow I hope to get to or near Arches National Park. We'll see how things develop. Either way, I'll most likely be out of wifi options for the next few days. Wish me luck.

Outside temperature: 66 F
Exact number of miles: 9942
Norah Jones - Not Too Late, Feels Like Home, Come Away With Me, Stay With Me
Thrice - The Alchemy Index I-IV, Identity Crisis, The Illusion of Safety
Iron and Wine - Our Endless Numbered Days


g said...

that pic of the milky way is awesome dude... i am way jealous that you are in such a clear place.

matt said...

yes yes, props on this installment of photos. Very pretty.